Container garden basics: How to start a micro-garden
- By: Ashley Saunders
- September 2020
Don’t let a lack of space stop you from having and enjoying a garden. Instead, consider starting a micro-garden in a container. Don’t worry if you’ve never grown a thing before as we’ll explain all in this guide to container garden basics.
To start a micro-garden, all you need is a large container, some soil, a few seeds and time! It’s simpler than you think and far more exciting! That said, it will cost some money to get started but don’t worry we’ll help you manage your budget.
Container gardens are fantastic if you have a tiny balcony or are easily bored and want to be able to easily change the plants by your front or back door without having to put in a lot of effort.
Let start to explore container garden basics as a way to grow a garden in the tiniest of space. This is welcome news if you don’t have a balcony or rooftop to transform into a garden.
Selecting the right container
You can start a container garden in just about anything from old wheelbarrows, cattle water troughs, wooden beer kegs sawn in half and even using a few different sized Terra Cotta pots. You’re literally only limited by your imagination, space and budget!
We’d recommend starting small and developing your micro garden as grow in confidence! So don’t rush out and spend a ton of money on buying a container. Instead, be creative and look for objects you already have or can get cheaply that can be repurposed.
There are a few elements that make up a good container. Firstly, it needs to have good drainage. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to consider how easy it is to drill holes in the bottom to improve draining.
Ideally, your container should be slightly larger than the combined rootballs of the plants you will put into them. Finally, you don’t want to have a lot of unfilled space in your container, as it will retain too much water and encourage root rot.
Where to place your container garden
As plants need sunlight and water to grow before you can start your container garden, you’ll need to consider how much sun different potential locations receive.
It’s best to monitor potential locations over a few days to see how many hours of sunlight they receive per day. There’s no right or wrong answer, but the amount of sunlight a particular spot gets will impact what you can grow.
Ideally, you want to locate your container garden in a spot that allows each species you’ve plated the full amount of sun they need to thrive. Otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
What’s the best soil?
Since you can use just about any container, you could be creative with your choice and look for something unique and cheap! However, you should spend money on buying good quality potting soil. Don’t scrimp on the soil!
In addition to using an all-purpose potting soil, you’ll want to buy some good compost as it will help to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
Feeding (fertilize) your container garden
Just using the best potting soil won’t be enough to keep your plants fed and growing. You’ll need to add fertilizer to ensure they continue to grow throughout the season. In terms of fertilizer, there’s plenty of options available including organic ones, which we’d recommend using.
Organic fertilizers have fewer chemicals and result in plants that are both healthy for your plants and your body. They might cost more but are worth the additional expense. You want to use a slow release organic fertilizer to ensure you plants continue to be fed.
Which plants should I use?
With a container and soil, the next step in our container garden basics is what to plant. You might be limited by space but there are thousands of plants to choose from!
As you’re trying to create a micro-garden, think in layers and try to mix different plant shapes. You could use spiky plants in the centre (often called Thrillers) and surround them with mounding plants (Fillers) and trailing plants (Spillers) that cascade over the sides.
Another element to consider in addition to plant shape is leaf colour and texture. Again, try to mix different colours and textures into your container garden.
Suggested annuals for container gardening
Plant one or two of these plants per container in the centre. Don’t be afraid to go bold as you’ll surround them with other plants that will soften the bright colours.
- Cordyline (cabbage palm)
- Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum)
- Spider flowers (Cleome)
- Whirling butterflies (Gaura)
As smaller plants, you can afford to use several groups of these within your container garden. A few ideas include:
- African daisy (Osteospermum)
- Flowering tobacco
- Geranium (zonal)
- Pot Marigold
As they will grow over and down the container, you should be able to plant a few while creating interesting layers.
- Creeping zinnia
- Licorice plant
- Moss rose
- Swedish ivy
- Vinca vine
- Wave petunia
Vegetables and herbs
Nothing is better than a pot of herbs! They’re low maintenance, quick growing and can be used in cooking straight away. Herbs are a superb starting point for a container garden.
If you fancy growing vegetables, consider planting cabbage, dwarf tomatoes or pumpkins, or peppers. All will thrive under the right conditions and provide both a colourful plant to look at and a crop!
Container garden basics planting
Before you can start planting, you need to fill your container with soil. Don’t fill the container full of soil as you’ll want space to create a water reservoir when watering. If you decide to grow from seeds, follow the planting instructions on the packet.
If you decide to plant a few different plants, you’ll need to correctly space them to ensure they don’t end up competing for the same space or nutrients. The packet should cover spacing in the planting instructions, if not either ask a more experienced gardener or research using the RHS website.
After planting, water thoroughly. If you have a tray or saucer under your container, you’ll need to empty it often, so the roots do not sit in excessive water.
How to care for your plants
One of the container garden basics you can’t overlook is caring for your plants. You’ll need to water your plants often, especially as the soil starts to dry out.
Don’t worry about adding too much water as any excess should drain quickly. The best time to water your plants is in the early morning hours or just after sunset.
Add mulch and a slow-release fertilizer every couple of months to encourage growth and ensure there’s plenty of nutrients in the soil.
You’ll want to prune plants back, harvest crops and remove deadhead to allow the plants to keep growing in a manageable way.
Start a container garden that fits your lifestyle
One of the secrets of gardening and container garden basics is doing a little, often. You might water for a few minutes Monday and Friday, spend 5 minutes pruning on Wednesday and Sunday, and admire your plants in between.
As you don’t have hours per day to spend tending to your plants, choose ones that are relatively low maintenance. For example, if you have very little time consider growing herbs, succulents or cacti, as they all require very little attention and maintenance yet continue to grow.
Gardening involves a little bit of luck. You won’t always be successful and there will be highs and low along the way. Sadly, plants sometimes die on the most season gardener!
Following these container garden basics will help you start with a solid foundation, you just need to experiment and learn from your mistakes. Don’t worry, you can regroup and try again next year!